In September of 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono relocated to Greenwich Village in New York City and found themselves at the epicenter of political activism. They soon became friends with high profile activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman and began making public appearances protesting the Vietnam War and the imprisonment of Angela Davis and John Sinclair. Fearing Lennon's influence and more specifically, that he had the ability to humiliate President Richard Nixon, the FBI began investigating, documenting John and Yoko's every move in an effort to find grounds on which to deport him. It was against this highly charged political backdrop that John and Yoko began recording their album, Sometime In New York City, with an agenda to protest against the social injustices they observed in the United States. With Phil Spector producing and accompanied by members of the Plastic Ono Band and Elephant's Memory, the album was completed in March of 1972 and remains the most overtly political recordings Lennon ever recorded.
At the request of their friend Geraldo Rivera, shortly after the album was released, Lennon agreed to headline two charity concerts to benefit the Willowbrook Home, a facility for learning disabled children. Also featuring Sha Na Na, Roberta Flack, and Stevie Wonder, the event was called "One To One," and New York mayor John Lindsay declared the date, "One To One Day." Both concerts were filmed and recorded, with excerpts of the evening show broadcast on ABC Television and performances from the afternoon show eventually compiled for release in 1986 as the live album and home video releases Live In New York City. Not only would these performances go down in history as one of the few times John and Yoko ever performed material from the Sometimes In New York City album, but they would unfortunately prove to be John Lennon's last and only full-length public concerts following the breakup of The Beatles.
The D.I.R. Network was also on hand to record the One To One event and in December of 1972 aired excerpts, including the five John and Yoko songs featured here. These five performances, all taken from the evening performance, have never been officially released, with the exception of a short excerpt of "Give Peace A Chance." Compared to the afternoon show, John seems more comfortable here and the band performances are stronger. One may wonder why the afternoon performances were favored for the officially released CD, when these may indeed be superior performances.
The recording begins with John introducing "Mother," the single from his first solo album. With typical Lennonesque humor, he says, "Here's another one of those songs from one of the albums I made since I left The Rolling Stones." He then states that the song is not about his own parents, but rather "It's about 99% of the parents alive or half dead," before launching into the song itself, one of his most intensely personal statements. Reflecting his involvement in primal therapy, his voice is at time harsh and the band is loose and under-rehearsed, but it is this unpolished rawness that makes this entire set so compelling. Lennon's vocal truly reflects the emotional pain of his listeners as well as his own.
Next up is Yoko Ono's rocker "We're All Water," one of the Sometimes In New York City tracks that marked her emergence as a challenging lyricist and songwriter. Here she celebrates a culture of one and lyrically exemplifies exactly what Richard Nixon and the FBI were so afraid of, with lines like, "There may not be much difference between Chairman Mao and Richard Nixon if we strip them naked" and "There may not be much difference between the White House and Hall of People if we count their windows," before declaring "We're all water in this vast, vast ocean. Someday we'll evaporate together."
Next up John ventures into his Beatles catalogue for a rare live take of "Come Together." Certainly one of the most thrilling moments of the performance, here the lurching sound of the band, which featured double bass players and drummers, works to create an undeniably powerful sound.
The D.I.R. engineers reverse the order of the last two songs for broadcast esthetics, with the grand finale of the evening show broadcast next. This version of "Give Peace A Chance," which runs nearly eight minutes here, is not so much the song itself, but rather a sing-a-long chant featuring the audience as well as all the evening's performers joining John and Yoko onstage. The highlight of this performance is Stevie Wonder's soulful and immediately recognizable voice emerging from the fray, lending a soulful authenticity to an already moving moment in time.
The recording ends with Lennon's tender utopian vision, "Imagine." Featuring a catchy new hook on the bridge courtesy of saxophone player, Stan Bronstien, this is a touching close to the broadcast.